An Online-Proficient National Education System In The Making: Global Education Summit China Highlights

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No better acid test for an elearning expert insight than checking whether it remains relevant in extremely unusual situations. Fortunately for the Chinese education sector, the high-level global roster pulled their weight at the Global Education Summit, held last November.

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China is among the first countries trying to resume educational activities. But life is not going back to the way it was. At school, students will face temperature checks and hand sanitizing queues before entering. They will wear masks at all times. In the classroom, they will find fewer class mates, their desks farther apart from one another. Similar arrangements will take place at recess and dining areas. This, of course, if the school’s reopening plan gets a passing grade from the Ministry of Education (link in Mandarin). It depends, among other things, on the epidemiological situation of the school’s province.

Lessons will be broadcast online live for the half of the alumni at home at any given time. But large swaths of the academic experience will stay online, probably for good. The Ministry is currently making “large concept” investments to provide a high-standard system that every schools can use. As teachers and learners conquer the online experience, it can become more “hands off.”

This is the beginning on a long-term plan that the pandemic should only embolden even more. Focused on issues of future, sustainable development, and the relationship between education, technology and society, these thought leaders shared the ways in which they wish, expect or actually influence China’s national hybrid learning system.

Esther Wojcicki: Autonomy makes creativity scalable on a national level

If the name rings a bell, that’s because this veteran teacher, journalist and long-term open source fighter is the mother of Susan (CEO of YouTube), Anne (Founder and CEO of 23andMe), and Janet (Epidemiologist at the University of California).

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Here are the highlights of the Q&A with the professional “People and Parents Raiser“:

  • Creativity and autonomy are not only essential skills, but promoting them in your curriculum will make your classes easier to manage.
  • Begin by adding autonomous, creative work to 20% of your lesson.
  • “TRICK” your students or children: Trust them, Respect them and their Independence, Collaborate with them, and be Kind to them at all times.
  • In fact, kindness could very well be the “killer app” of the next-gen national learning systems. Among other things, it lets you channel the “inherently competitive spirit of children” into collectively desirable outcomes.
  • Ultimately, part of the goal of education is to foster respect for students’ ideas. It starts on a personal level: Teaching kids to respect their own ideas as well as those in the classroom, as a way to encourage dialogue and innovation on the larger stage.

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Sungsup Ra: Education + ICT to launch a hundred Singapores

Chair of the Education Group at the Asian Development Bank, Seoul native Ra offers a short and fascinating lesson on the history of educational development of Singapore, and the massive replication exercise currently taking place all over mainland China. It took Singapore just a few decades to achieve the standards of living the developed world worked for decades. China wants to push ahead with turning dozens of villages the size of Singapore or Seoul, if not larger, into rich metropolises, in a fraction of the time it took them.

How could something like this could ever be possible?

  • The formula adopted by Singapore, Seoul or Israel involved heavy and sustained investments in education as well as ICT infrastructure, relentlessly over the course of decades. The returns on these investments did not took as long to materialize.
  • Inequality (PDF) is quite possible the biggest threat to a successful national digital learning system. To be sure, it was a threat for national education before, only now it has become more prescient. Small differences early on on issues like nutrition or commuting times compound into significant educational and productivity gaps as the years go by.
  • Connectivity has largely improved across Southeast Asia and the world, which is good news but a massive missed opportunity from an educational standpoint. Likewise, pilots of highly connected classrooms, as exemplified in some places in India, will not see a lot of results without a sound pedagogy that departs from rote memorization.
  • So what is sound pedagogy? The answer involves local context and real-time personalization aimed at “sustained student interest,” which is only possible with a data-intensive approach that keeps track throughout their educational lives. Data and technology are useful as long as they are put at the service of people.

Summary: A better system is right around the corner, and also not inevitable

I wonder for how much longer we will have to endure senior leaders spending a chunk of their valuable intervention time sharing widely known facts about the world, throwing tired cliches about the brain around, or demonstrating the basic understanding of AI that were fascinating years ago.

CEOs, Presidents, Deans, appear positive about the current technological trends, and they all have their “cool” idea of what it could do. Thoughts more apt for an early stage startup than a group of experts tasked to chart the future of national digital systems. Let alone one capable to handle the immediate risks of a pandemic through resilient planning for the future. It’s as if an invisible wall was preventing them from exploring ideas about the future of education to their full expressions.

As a result, the hard questions about these technologies remain:

  • 5G. Yes, it is a gateway to “globally intelligent education.” But how? How can infrastructure investment in 5G account for some of the issues highlighted earlier?
  • Digital Teachers. This statistical exception is actually an issue that should deserve more attention: The investment on teacher upskilling as a percentage of total education spending and investment in EdTech.
  • Research and education relationship. Few policies on what research should be like are needed, but most discussions on research end up falling in a subject late nineties handbooks had mostly sorted out. Discussions about validated evidence and techniques about making research relevant and adaptable to every context seem to happen next century.
  • Mastery, “Whole Child,” Growth Mindset. On the opposite end of the horseshoe, popular theories without thorough evidence on its outcomes or contextual applicability continue to plague the conversation. Unlike issues like personalization, creativity or social learning, these prepackaged and rigidly defined paradigms find little room for classroom exploration.

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